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An East European-Turkish Pact Against Russian Neo-Imperialism

An interim solution for Ukraine’s and Georgia’s current security problem, until they become members of the EU and NATO, could be the revival of an old inter-war Polish idea about an alliance of Central and South East European states located between Scandinavia in the north and Asia minor in the south, and between Germany in the west and Russia in the east. As long the EU and NATO are not ready to expand further east, these countries could ally themselves in a so-called “Intermarium” bloc, i.e. in an association of the lands in between the seas.

This early 20th-century plan could today imply an entente cordiale or mutual aid pact of the countries in between the Baltic and Black Seas, i.e. of those states which perceive Moscow as a threat to their political sovereignty, territorial integrity, and core interests. The purpose of Intermarium’s mutual assistance guarantees would be to:

  • improve its member countries’ national security, international embeddedness, institutional coherence and political self-confidence,
  • deter Russia from attacking its member countries via traditional, hybrid, information, trade or other warfare,
  • increase the freedom, range, weight, and impact of the actions of its member countries on the international arena.

A modern day Intermarium (...) could be a limited and single-purpose defense treaty of a group of countries ready to assist each other against hybrid warfare conducted by foreign powers against them.

A modern day Intermarium would – unlike in the inter-war period – not imply some deeper union, federation or full-scale alliance. Instead, it could be a limited and single-purpose defense treaty of a group of countries ready to assist each other against hybrid warfare conducted by foreign powers against them. This anti-imperial pact could include those countries of Europe that are ready to commit to some degree of military and other cooperation in confronting Moscow. Many states across Russia’s Western and Southern borders are already, to one degree or another, affected by the Kremlin’s information, trade, cyber, cold or/and hot wars.

The signatories of an Intermarium security pact could unambiguously announce to the Kremlin their willingness to actively and multifariously assist each other in their hitherto bilateral conflicts with Russia. The fields of Intermarium’s members’ cooperation could include:

  • multilateral coordination of economic and other sanctions,
  • mutual lethal defensive weapons deliveries,
  • enabling cross-border movement of volunteer troops,
  • collaboration in matters of energy security and transportation,
  • mutual assistance in combat training and arms modernization,
  • sharing of strategic, counter- and other intelligence,
  • joint military industrial and dual technology ventures,
  • logistic help in resisting hybrid warfare measures,
  • joint international counter-propaganda initiatives,
  • exchange of military advisors and other experts, or/and
  • support for establishing transnational NGOs in the Intermarium.

It could also include implementation of other targeted projects in a variety of secondary, yet also relevant spheres ranging from think-tank and university collaboration to international tourism and cultural exchange.

As Ankara’s relations to Moscow are now affected by tensions reminiscent of those experienced in many East European capitals, a modern day Intermarium could go beyond the former Soviet bloc. It could include Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Bulgaria, Moldova, Ukraine, Turkey, Georgia, and Azerbaijan. It might also include the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary, should the domestic political configurations there change, or further states from Scandinavia to the Balkans. In these countries too, many politicians and intellectuals perceive Russia as a threat, have memories of anti-imperial resistance against Moscow expansionism, and/or may be motivated to support Kyiv, Chisinau, and Tbilisi in their disputes with the Kremlin, over their territory and sovereignty.

For a while, the negative effects of Moscow’s new foreign adventurism were mitigated by Turkey’s economic interests in Russia.

Partly, an informal Intermarium is already evolving, and – whether acknowledged or not – already becoming a problem for Moscow. On a bilateral basis, such cooperation is taking place between, for instance, Ukraine, on the one side, and Poland or Turkey, on the other. There is also some nascent multilateral cooperation between the countries of Intermarium, for instance, within the joint Polish-Lithuanian-Ukrainian brigade. Georgia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan and Moldova are members and Turkey as well as Latvia are observers of the GUAM Organization for Democracy and Economic Development. After the Orange Revolution in 2005, the Community of Democratic Choice was established by nine East European countries (Estonia, Georgia, Lithuania, Latvia, Macedonia, Moldova, Romania, Slovenia, Ukraine) and eight observing delegations (Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, United States, European Union, OSCE) to promote democracy and the rule of law. The NATO member Turkey and Eastern Partnership country Azerbaijan concluded in 2010 an Agreement on Strategic Partnership and Mutual Support which provides for, among others, military and military-industrial cooperation. Since 2012, Turkey, Romania, and Poland are conducting yearly trilateral special meetings at which they consult on strategic and security issues.

Moscow’s attack on Ukraine and annexation of Crimea has not only intensified existing feelings of mutual solidarity within Eastern Europe. It has also brought Turkey into the East European game, as the Crimean Tatars are closely related to the Turks and strongly resist their inclusion into Russia. Over the last 25 years, the Crimean Tatars have become ardent supporters of Ukraine as a sovereign state and their preferred home country. At the same time, according to different estimates, the number of Crimean Tatars living in Turkey ranges from 150,000 to 6 million. German-Azeri historian Zaur Gasimov writes that, moreover, “a not inconsiderable part of Turkey’s leading historians are of Crimean Tatar descent. […] As authors of best-selling books and as public intellectuals, they frequently comment on issues in Turkish politics, historical interpretation and religion.”[1]

These and other factors had, even before the more recent escalation, led to cracks in Turkish-Russian relations. For a while, the negative effects of Moscow’s new foreign adventurism were mitigated by Turkey’s economic interests in Russia. Since autumn of last year, the schism has, however, been widening, especially after Turkey shot down a Russian fighter jet on 24 November 2015. As a result of the Kremlin’s intervention in Syria and economic sanctions against Turkey, relations between Moscow and Ankara are now deeply damaged. The decline of the Russian economy and escalation of the conflict in Nagorno Karabakh too contributed to Turkey’s changing perception of Russia as a reliable partner.

While it is thus no surprise that Ankara’s empathy for Kyiv has recently increased, the magnitude of Turkey’s new engagement with Ukraine is noteworthy.

While it is thus no surprise that Ankara’s empathy for Kyiv has recently increased, the magnitude of Turkey’s new engagement with Ukraine is noteworthy. Not only has the Turkish leadership, since December 2015, taken some ad hoc measures to support Kyiv, such as delivery of military hospitals to Ukraine. During a visit of President Petro Poroshenko to Ankara in early March 2016, Ukraine and Turkey signed a 21-point Joint Declaration that includes cooperation concerning economic, cultural, and consular issues, as well as in security affairs ranging from cooperation in weapons production to military education. Turkey and Ukraine hope to conclude in 2016 their ongoing negotiations for the creation of a free trade zone.

A new defense pact of non-nuclear states located between NATO’s founding countries and Russia, based on the Community of Democratic Choice and modeled on the Turkish-Azeri mutual support agreement, would not principally change European geopolitics. Yet, it could help to deter Kremlin adventurism, and thus make these states more secure. It would also assist in decreasing tensions in the West’s relations with Moscow by refocusing Russia’s attention away from the US and EU. Europe’s current security structures have shown to be insufficient while effective frameworks other than an Intermarium are not on offer. A reconfiguration of East European inter-state relations is overdue. The emergence of an Intermarium coalition would demonstrate not only to the Kremlin, but also to Russia’s population, that Moscow’s growing foreign adventurism is detrimental to Russian national interests.

[1] Zaur Gasimov, “Nahe Verwandte, so fern: Die Türkei, die Tataren und die Krim,” Osteuropa, Nos 5-6/2014, pp. 311–322.

Andreas Umland
Andreas Umland

Andreas Umland is an Analyst at the Stockholm Centre for Eastern European Studies (SCEEUS) at the Swedish Institute of International Affairs (UI)

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